Thinking back over the last dozen years of consolidation, it's easy in retrospect to identify many things that just haven't worked out very well for radio. Operationally, the idea that one manager can oversee a half dozen radio stations has clearly not been ideal for many clusters. Or that combined sales staffs have frequently come up short in the revenue generation department. Voice tracking has clearly had some downsides by blanding out content, and eroding localism. And the arrogance that came with "owning a market" - as in "Where else are they going to go?" - has been replaced by media and technological choice, whether it's Internet or satellite radio, podcasts, or other entertainment outlets. "They" have discovered other places to go.
But perhaps one of the saddest outgrowths of consolidation has been the minimization of industry conventions. Back in the day, conventions like the NAB were essentially mandatory. You just went. Everyone showed up for the RAB, you looked forward to the R&R, and there were get-togethers with names like Gavin that thrived, too.
Today, it's a struggle to entice radio broadcasters to show up to their own conventions. How much sense does that make, especially to those on the outside of this industry who wonder what we're thinking? We're not together on PPM, we're struggling to make a go of HD Radio, we're promising but not delivering on "less is more," and we don't attend our own major industry conventions.
Consider the standard excuses for staying home that we've heard over the years:
"I'm not going to send my people to conventions - they'll just look for better jobs."
"Conventions are just excuses to party."
"They can learn more at our company meetings."
"I don't want my people to share their great ideas with the competition."
Maybe if radio broadcasters sent their people to conventions like they used to, some learning and development might take place. The rank-and-file might pick up some techniques and information that would help them get better at their jobs, they might feel a renewed sense of energy about the business, and become more excited about convincing their weary spouses and families that radio is still a great place to be.
In contrast, isn't it interesting that conventions and meetings for industries representing new technologies, gadgets, and emerging media are typically well-attended, and often SRO? These gatherings generate a buzz. People want to be there, they want to learn, they want to share ideas, and they are excited about the future.
Consider Public Radio where many of their organizations put together conventions each year that always attract big crowds of broadcasters who seek to become better at their craft. Maybe that's part of the reason why Public Radio's ratings have been healthier during the past decade.
Now it's also true that there was a time when the NAB Convention did not present the best convention agenda. And that the R&R Convention was often reduced to a record company gathering at the hotel bar or pool.
But if you haven't checked lately, perhaps you should look into the sessions at both the NAB and the R&R in Austin this month. They are loaded with great speakers, well-known experts, and actionable sessions. The folks at the top have gotten the message that conventions need some meat on the bone, and provide people like you with good reasons to make the trip.
And while I most definitely have a dog in this hunt, this year's Summit 13 agenda is as good as any we've put together. We have worked hard over the years to create and populate strong meetings with compelling speakers, timely topics, and information you can take back to your stations and put into use. The feedback that we consistently get from attendees is that The Summit, more often than not, hits the mark.
While you can stream our sessions after the fact, there's no substitute for being there, seeing the Summit live, and interacting with us and your friends and colleagues in the radio industry. Radio is at a crossroads that demands better decision-making, whether it's at the station level or for your own personal career management.
It's not too late to consider making the trip to Austin. Your station will thank you, you'll support your industry, and it just might help you revitalize your career. As for the CEOs reading this blog, isn't it time to rethink who is allowed to go to industry conventions and what they're designed to accomplish? If we can't get fired up about our own business, why should anyone else?